Tax Appeal Plaintiff “Snake-Bitten”

by: Richard De Angelis
18 Aug 2014

In this appeal, Jaylin Holdings LLC v. Manchester Township, challenging the local property assessments for tax years 2009 through 2012, the court was confronted not only with lawyers and appraisers, but snakes!

This appeal involved five parcels located in the Townships of Toms River and Manchester and subject to regulation by the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (“DEP”) under the Coastal Area Facility Review Act (“CAFRA”).

Prior to the tax appeal, plaintiff had filed a development application with DEP at which time it was discovered that plaintiff’s property could be a suitable habitat for the Northern Pine Snake (pine snake), a threatened and endangered wildlife.

While the court found that plaintiff produced sufficient evidence to overcome the presumption of validity that attaches to the assessment, it held that plaintiff failed to sustain its burden of proof and affirmed the assessments.

Taking center stage in this appeal, other than the snakes, was the highest and best use analysis. There was no dispute among the appraisal experts that the “legally permissible” use of the subject property was commercial development. However the appraisers did not agree on what was “physically possible.”

Plaintiff’s expert concluded that the subject property being a known habitat for threatened and endangered species imposed limitations on development for any use.”

The defendant’s appraiser concluded that commercial development was possible, notwithstanding the environmental constraints and the presence of a threatened and endangered wildlife species. The defendant’s expert relied on comparable sales that had similar environmental constraints but were developed into commercial uses.

The court found that “[w]hile the identification of the existence of the pine snake habitat on the subject property most certainly impacted the extent of the development . . . it in no way prohibited all development as maintained by plaintiff’s appraiser.” The court found that the defendants’ experts’ conclusions as to the highest and best use of the subject property was persuasive and, more importantly, that plaintiff had failed to sustain its burden of proof to alter the assessments.

A copy of the court’s decision may be found here.